Riverside Medical Center

Riverside Healthcare said employees, other than those involved in the temporary restraining order, still must be vaccinated by Oct. 31 to maintain their positions.

KANKAKEE — While five employees were granted a court-issued extension in regard to receiving the COVID-19 vaccination to continue working for Riverside Healthcare, that same extension does not cover any other employee.

The hospital, in a Tuesday email message to its staff, noted the Oct. 31 deadline regarding being vaccinated remains in effect.

“The court ruling does not apply to any other Riverside employees,” the statement read.

Of the organization’s 2,913 employees, 90 percent have been vaccinated. Employees not vaccinated by Oct. 31 face a two-week unpaid suspension. If they are not vaccinated following the suspension, they will be terminated.

On Monday, Kankakee County Circuit Court Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson issued a temporary restraining order for five nurses who were set to be either fired or suspended by the organization for not gaining the vaccination.

The restraining order was for only those five employees, not any other staff members who have yet to be vaccinated.

“[Monday’s] ruling granted a temporary restraining order until Nov. 19 for four of the six Riverside nurses who filed a suit asking they be exempt from getting the vaccination,” the statement to employees read.

The four employees are Neelie Panozzo, Kathryn Hamblem, Valerie Kietzman and Judy Busato. A fifth nurse, Carmen Wymore was late in getting a signed document to the court before the hearing began, but her name will be added to the list of four.

The message noted that while Riverside disagreed with the court’s decision and it plans to contest the ruling, it would comply with the decision handed down by Nicholson and the nurses will continue to work at the hospital as the legal process proceeds.

The five employees and other unvaccinated staff members are required to comply with the safety protocols, including wearing an N95 mask at all times and weekly testing.

“We are unwavering in our belief that requiring our employees to be vaccinated or receive an approved religious/strongly held belief or medical exemption will allow us to provide the safest environment possible, and that the criteria we’ve been using to guide our decisions is fair, justifiable and clearly focused on protecting the health and safety of our patients and workforce,” the message stated.

The message concluded by noting Riverside is grateful for every member of its team, the vast majority of whom have already been vaccinated or are approved exemptions.

“Our hope continues to be that those who haven’t received this vaccine will take this important step before the deadline on October 31st.”

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.